Do You Want to Know the Truth?

Do You Want to Know the Truth?

John Foster reviews Rupert Read's 2022 book, written for all who find themselves confronted, in the stark glare of climate truth, by Lenin’s famous question: what is to be done?

Book Cover showing tree falling through the sky taring the paper of painting canvas with text "Do You Want to Know the Truth? The surprising rewards of climate honesty" and "Insights drip from virtually every page - Chris Packham"
Book by Rupert Read

The surprising rewards of climate honesty

Published by Simplicity Institute, 2022


This is not a book for the faint-hearted. Rupert Read writes here, more vividly and urgently than he ever has before (which is saying something), for people who not only want to know the hard truth about how things stand with our climate and ecological plight, but want to go on knowing it once they do know it. For that truth is terrible, and thus something which it is all too easy to know or suspect intellectually, but then refuse or suppress on a daily basis because it demands just too much of us. Such refusal can take the form of a wide variety of displacement activities, from dutifully recycling the household waste all the way to relying on our political leaders to get a grip at last and save us. Read wants to confront us also with the truth about that way of trying to cope with the truth, which is that it offers a spectrum of engagement with only rubbish at either end of it – and that is the really hard truth of our times: no-one, least of all from amongst our current breed of politico, is going to save us, and it is what we do with that knowledge that might make the difference between disaster and catastrophe.

The truth about the climate, in a nutshell, is not just that anthropogenic global overheat is already bringing us the disasters which, as they accumulate, will shake the currently dominant form of civilisation to its foundations, but that it is now too late to avoid, significantly minimise or effectively mitigate that process. Backing up this grim reality, as Read makes clear, is on the one hand climate science, which tells us that if we want a plausible chance of staying below the 1.5oC threshold beyond which lies a deadly slide into the unprecedented, we should have to have achieved global net zero carbon emissions by last year. On the other hand, there are all the factors which have prevented national governments and the international community from heeding warnings about this prospect sounded over decades: the widespread addiction to destructive consumerism in the high-emission societies; the pernicious effects of social media reinforcing that addiction; the strangling net of vested interests cast over us all by corporations which exist to profit from consumer dependency, and have no compunction about lying to protect their bottom lines; the very significant income inequalities which massively skew responsibility for carbon emissions as between both individuals and countries; the general prostitution of the press and broadcast journalism compounding popular ignorance of the scientific consensus; and the paralysis of democratic politics in the face of an apparently locked-in momentum of destructiveness.

Read shirks none of this, and is especially cogent on how it has all combined to produce the long-term structural inadequacies and repeated failures of the international Rio process, lurching annually from COP-out to COP-out. His target audience in this book, however, is not really anyone who needs persuading of the seriousness of the crisis, nor anyone complicit at any level in kicking the planetary can down the road, but all those who desperately want to do something about it, and thus find themselves confronted, in the stark glare of all these truths, by Lenin’s famous question: what is to be done?

I am myself on record (see my Realism and the Climate Crisis, especially the last three chapters) as believing that the answer, here too, must be to foment revolution. Read gives that answer surprisingly short shrift; he claims, for instance, that it is only

“in the outer reaches of the fantasy-land of feveredly over-optimistic radicals that we get to have a worldwide eco-socialist degrowth revolution or some such in the next couple of years that then turns everything around on the head of a pin.” (p.126)

But while this itself slightly fevered characterisation might be apt for some particularly utopian proposals, the revolution arguably called for need be neither worldwide (though it would have to start an international trend) nor eco-socialist (it would, indeed, have to shelve many characteristically left-wing ideals). Nor could it possibly be instantaneous, any more than was Lenin’s own revolution, which wasn’t completed until the mid-1920s with the New Economic Plan. What might easily be mistaken for a catch-all dismissal here is even more surprising, however, because the ‘transformative adaptation’ for which he is himself avowedly contending throughout the book is, surely, revolution by another name. As he says,

“We’ve got to adapt to the damage that is already here and the worse damage that is already coming and we’ve got to adapt in a manner that is transformative. We’ve got to roll with the punches in a way that involves system change” (p.39, his italics).

The systems which will have to change, in the directions of carbon rationing, food security, local economic resilience and ecological restoration to name only some main aspects, must be those of governance, employment, mobility, education, social support and currently taken-for-granted institutional structures generally. Such wholesale turnaround or upending is what ‘revolution’ means, and the only question is then how ‘revolutionary’ it will need to be – that is, how far the process will have to depart from established political procedures.

Let us stick with this idea of revolution, because it makes the fundamental political issues which Read is in fact raising all through his book so much harder to ignore. We will then be explicitly envisaging massive disturbance of the social, economic and governance arrangements of a society – in the first place, ours in Britain. Envisaging this frankly will bring us up against the awkward fact that, human nature being what it is, the majority of people in any society (except perhaps one already visibly in terminal chaos, to which even post-Brexit Britain has not yet been reduced) will not want their arrangements massively disturbed, whether that be for reasons of vested political or financial interest or simply because they have committed a lot of their ordinary lives to the system as it exists. Revolution therefore is normally going to be about inducing this majority to do what they don’t want to do – to reconfigure their activities and assumptions in ways about which they will feel, at least initially, strong reluctance, however much doing so may be for their longer-term good (as proponents of any reconfiguration will of course think, and as is very evidently the case in the climate context). And getting people to do what they really don’t want to do, but must be got to do if we are all to avoid catastrophe, brings up the uncomfortable but inevitable question of force.

Force is a complex concept. There are cases of straightforward physical control (I force you to sign the cheque by grabbing and steering your hand), but much more commonly we talk about force when people are made to act for fear of consequences which they perceive to be worse than those of not acting. “Hand over the keys or we’ll shoot you” is just as much a use of force as is my sitting on you while my accomplice extracts them from your pocket. But we also talk about force of argument – and in terms which equally have to do with efficacy, which is essentially the overcoming of resistance. Thus, when I am persuaded of something I find the reasons in its favour stronger that those against; I may not like a certain conclusion, but I am rationally compelled to accept it, I am convinced (from the Latin vincere, to conquer). Conquest by reason, however, has the characteristic feature, lacking in ordinary physical compulsion, that when I recognise you to have reason on your side, I thereby take the side of reason and so am at once on your side too. When Milton noted that

“who overcomes By force, hath overcome but half his foe”,

he had physical force in mind. (Piquantly, these words are put into the mouth of the Father of Lies[1], but Milton’s Satan is a many-faceted character.) If you win by simply overpowering your opponent’s resistance, you have daunted them in a way which may only be temporary, since if they continue to resent your victory and nurse their remaining strength, they may in due course regroup. But if you overcome through the force of arguments which genuinely convince, rather than just reducing your interlocutor to mutinous silence (a crucial qualification), you do so by fully enlisting your opponent as your collaborator.

Now Greens have to date overwhelmingly seen their role as using force of argument to sway minds within democratic systems where power and policy are determined, at least in theory, by electoral and other results of rational persuasion. One of the hard truths which Read is concerned that we should now admit, however, is that significant change of the order needed to avert climate catastrophe will not be achieved along that route in anything remotely like the time we have left ourselves. It is not merely that such a theory of democratic process was always somewhat naïve about real power relations (if voting really changed anything much, as the only slightly cynical old saying goes, they would have abolished it). Even to the extent that rational persuasion can genuinely operate, it is far too slow a business for the situation we presently face: it requires too many people who can’t see any emergency directly under their noses to be educated, informed and liberated from mass-mediated prejudice. (Had the rational grounds for emergency action been sufficient, after all, we should be at least a lot further on than we are, such grounds having been fully available for years to those disposed to use their reason.) Rather, Read argues, something is now called for which has always co-existed with rational persuasion in the Green armoury and has latterly been brought vividly to the fore by the activities of Extinction Rebellion and the school strikers, namely, resort to the vigorous deployment of moral force. Much of his book is an impassioned plea for the Green movement to rise to this crisis by exerting moral force through unvarnished truth-telling backed up by non-violent direct action both much more widely distributed and much more intelligently planned and co-ordinated than has hitherto been the case. As he puts it in a piece for the Green Party house magazine reprinted here as Chapter 5, where he is urging that single-mindedly timid political formation to break free from its now dead-end obsession with purely electoral politics:

“The real power we have therefore is to…name the truth that the dream of arresting dangerous human-caused climate change is dead. That conventional politics has failed. That we have to turn to people-power, and to aim for adaptation and not just mitigation…the one way we could utterly transform politics, is if we break through into people’s consciousnesses with an unexpected, true, authentic message backed by action.” (p.46)

Such action will acquire enormous potency, he thinks, from being based on exposing and bearing witness to the excruciating reality of our situation, rather than continuing to entangle us in the false optimism, or what (borrowing a for-once apt Californianism) he labels the ‘toxic positivity’ which can go even with recognising a ‘climate emergency’ – a term which can too easily call up the idea of fire-engines blaring reassuringly to our rescue.

Moral force, as this case is built on recognising, involves a good deal more than mere force of argument. Exerted typically through group actions combining verbal with symbolic expressiveness, it adds a crucial dimension of emotional power and collective impetus. During its application it brings to bear more-than-rational pressures: those subjected to it are intended, for instance, to experience fear, albeit moral fear – for their good standing with their own conscience, or in the eyes of their neighbours, or before the tribunal of history which may come to judge their actions. And other, less creditable kinds of apprehension can also be called up, such as fear of relying on one’s own unaided judgement or of going against the crowd. (Nietzsche says somewhere that men believe in the truth of all that is seen to be strongly believed in.) But crucially, moral force shares with rational compulsion the characteristic already identified, that at the moment when it succeeds, it ceases to count as force. When the person or group being subjected to it realises with full acceptance that they ought, indeed, to be doing whatever they have been coming under moral pressure to do, their will as it were jumps sides and endorses the pressure, which thereby, meeting no more resistance, vanishes. Successfully applied moral force, it might be said, transforms those whom it compels; no wonder then that it seems such an appropriate way of inspiring people to join in a transformative enterprise.

It is impossible to remain unimpressed, indeed unmoved, by the eloquence and sincerity with which Read develops this argument. But is moral force really, after all, up to the job? During the course of the book, reflecting (we are told) his own intellectual journey in this terrain, what is presented as the job progresses from shaming government into action towards mobilising a mass movement of people at large, galvanised into concern by committed truth-telling, who will then not only exert political pressure through existing democratic channels but will also take steps to transform aspects of their own situation under their own initiative. It is surely part of taking this case seriously, however, to wonder whether even bearing passionate witness to the hard truth in symbolic action might fail to bring enough force to bear on either of those targets.

As regards the first, one should always bear in mind George Orwell’s sardonic observation [2] that despotic governments can stand moral force until the cows come home – as too, very probably, can governments with strong despotic tendencies like our present one. (And any presently-imaginable British government will swiftly discover such tendencies once the whole framing of the fossil-fuel state is seriously challenged.) Orwell was talking about Gandhi, in relation to whom the remark certainly stands as a useful corrective: Gandhi is an icon of moral force, Read himself appealing to the concept of satyagraha, but the conventional view that moral force got Britain out of India is wildly unhistorical – Britain left India, precipitately and perhaps even prematurely given the internecine communal strife which followed, because it had nearly bankrupted itself in stopping Hitler (whom Gandhi had actually urged Europe’s Jews to resist non-violently). The point, however, can be generalised. The conductors of despotic or despotically-inclined governments may be irritated or incommoded or even mildly embarrassed by actions and demonstrations seeking to deploy moral force against them, but they are hardly going to fear them, even in the specifically moral sense identified above. Quite apart from the mere brazen-fronted crassness which increasingly characterises telly-democratic politicians, they have too many legal and coercive resources available to protect themselves from having to confront uncomfortable truths, and will undoubtedly deploy these resources when their foundational assumptions come under threat.

To the extent that the aim is also to stir up a wider movement, however, we have to reckon with the general condition which Read himself unflinchingly describes:

“We are addicted to fossil fuels. Some of us are addicted to greed, to money, to things. Our system is addicted to growth. These addictions are killing us and (more importantly) everyone we love and care about, including the voiceless future ones and more-than-human beings” (p.131).

For cruel as that condition is in its effects, it is at least plausibly a further bitter truth of our situation that characterising it as addiction here means exactly what it says: not, that is, just a metaphor for established habits of consumption strongly reinforced by systemic configurations, but indicating something genuinely pathological, with clear structural similarities to what in the individual case would be a clinically recognisable form of disorder.

Addiction starts by meeting a real need not with a genuine satisfier of that need, which for various reasons may not be accessible, but with a substitute satisfier which only temporarily satisfies and on repeated inputs of which the sufferer then becomes dependent. The resulting dependency yields an inherently unfillable hole in the soul – a soul, or human consciousness, being in fact the only kind of thing which can contain an inherently unfillable hole, because only in a human soul can awareness of a need go with and be reinforced by recognition of the inadequacy of available satisfiers, so that attempts to fill the hole merely deepen it. For the ordinary unreflective majority in our kind of society, it seems plausible to suggest, the relevant real need is for meaning and purpose in life; this is unmet – that is, genuine satisfiers are absent – for a wide variety of reasons including the failing credibility of religious framings, the increasingly routine and mechanical nature of much work and of daily life, the effects of urbanisation and declining contact with the non-human world accompanying changing attitudes to our own nature as sexual beings, and not least the widespread substitution of passive forms of entertainment for genuine art. The substitute satisfiers are then commodities, with the capitalist dynamic, the restless churning of meretricious novelty endemic to capitalism’s profit-seeking drive, supplying an imitation purposiveness in the form of competitive acquisition. Keeping up, or even just aspiring to keep up, with this dynamic provides people who “find their soul in commodities”, as Marcuse once put it[3] – in iPhones, SUVs, flat-screen televisions and holiday flight-packages, to update his examples – with a permanent source both of apparent autonomy and of apparent point to their lives.

But this form of what (since the majority of those afflicted are not clinically disordered as individuals) we might call culturalinsanity – and how but as a form of insanity can we honestly describe contemporary urbanised life and ‘culture’? – has huge implications for confronting the climate emergency. If the majority’s relation to the rampant consumerism which is ultimately driving this emergency is indeed one of addiction, rather than merely of reluctance to face hard truths, break bad habits and make uncomfortable changes, then bets premised on bringing moral force to bear on that majority are surely off. For the whole point about addiction is precisely that it neuters the force of truth. The addict can know all the needful truths – know himself addicted, know how destructive that is for his health and well-being, and know that he really should break free – but it is in the nature of the condition that, for all that, his will in the matter is no longer his own.

These limits to the efficacy of moral force are perhaps neither unarguable nor fixed in place – as Read frequently and rightly emphasises, we shan’t know until we try – but it would be unrealistic to deny that they represent genuine possibilities. It is indeed their status as such which makes the second main strand of the book, where he introduces his idea of a new ‘moderate flank’ movement of climate responsibility, so especially interesting. This is the notion, original as far as I know with him, that the activities of Extinction Rebellion in particular (set up as an explicitly ‘radical flank’ to the then-existing environmental movement),  although unsuccessful in their declared aim of mobilising enough of the civil population to force real policy-change on government, have been much more successful in shifting the terrain of debate – the so-called ‘Overton window’. XR seems to have brought assumptions into the mainstream which would indeed have been unacceptably radical only a few years ago: that there really is a climate emergency, that the science really is unchallengeable except by vested interests, and that net zero really must be on the policy agenda for some not impossibly future date.

From this, two important conclusions follow: firstly, that individuals and institutions who are up for only comparatively mainstream forms of action could now remain within their comfort zones while genuinely engaging with the crisis as officially recognised; and secondly, as a corollary, that such engagement would now be likely to have (and to be seen as likely to have) significantly more leverage than previously. There could be envisaged, at least more plausibly than hitherto, a diversely numerous and even perhaps a mass movement within which the broad constituency of concern awakened by XR could feel empowered and enabled. Such a movement, radical in relation to the mainstream insofar as it would be pursuing systemic change, but on the mainstream or ‘moderate’ side of more demonstrative forms of activism (getting banged up for gluing oneself to the Shard, and so forth), is what Read is seeking both through this book and with an associated organisation to promote. [4]

On the kinds of activity which might fall within this conception, the book is deliberately suggestive rather than prescriptive, the nearest it comes to setting out a programme being this:

“The climate movement’s next wave will probably consist in large-scale, distributed climate and eco action, not just activism. In my view, this is exemplified by organising that is emerging in the form of such encouraging post-XR moderate flank endeavours as the Zero Hour campaign to get a climate and ecological emergency bill through Parliament, the emerging ‘Climate Emergency Centres’ network, community climate and eco action as found increasingly from the ground up, new inspiring organisations in the professions such as Lawyers For Net Zero, the heroic effort by some in the airline industry to transition and reduce their industry (the previously mentioned ‘Safe Landing’)…It is also exemplified by more below-the-radar action by insurers, fiduciaries, and many others to catalyse the kind of change needed in influential sectors of society” (pp.121-2).

Apart from continued conventional forms of pressure on Parliament, what seems to be envisaged here is a combination of increasingly concerted local community and economic resilience-building – Transition Towns on speed”, as he glosses this – with the much more widely distributed application of moral force through professional and other organisations and in workplaces. Judging from the examples, the big clamorous demonstrations are to be replaced, or at any rate supplemented, with persistent insider challenging of working assumptions backed up by local and targeted arguments for relevant change. Such challenges and arguments would involve the active pressing of questions like: how sustainable is our business? what is our product? what are the present ethical implications of our professional standards and commitments? what are we doing with our profits? how dependent are we on long-distance commuting or fragile supply chains?...and so forth.

So what do the prospects for this range of activities look like, in the light of the reasons for scepticism about moral force in general which I was canvassing just above? Can the necessary revolution be achieved in the available time through such dispositions, and on such terms?

The only truthful answer at this point must be that we don’t yet know. Certainly, that kind of widely-distributed action, combined with perfectly legal and legitimate strengthening of community resilience, would be much harder for government to criminalise and suppress than campaigns built on one-off symbolic marches and disruptions have been. On the other hand, for success to rise beyond the randomly local towards the systemic, a much greater degree of centralised coordination and direction would be demanded than seems to be provided for in that admittedly very brief sketch of an agenda – and any real coordinating focus would have to run considerable, even immoderate, risks, the conspiracy laws lying ready to the hand of any government which started to take these challenges seriously. All we can say at present is that the conception as sketched defines a plausible constituency and a genuine field of activity; if Read is right about its being the climate movement’s next wave, we shall shortly be able to appraise its efficacy in action. What is in my view the really exciting thing about the new moderate flank concept, however, is the way it suggests what such action might be preparing us for, and might segue into, should ‘revolutionary moderation’ turn out to be as oxymoronic as one is inclined to anticipate.

What lies beyond moral force? In the final resort, of course, there is physical force. But Greens do not have at their call the armed battalions of sailors, soldiers and industrial workers who turned out for the Bolsheviks – and even if they had, the evidence is that hitherto, at any rate, they would have declined on moral grounds to deploy them: Greens, like the Quakers with whom they often overlap, have long believed in moral force as the only legitimate kind. Arguably, though, they have done so in the conviction that moral non-violence and physical violence represented the only alternatives. What Read’s vision of distributed climate-responsible activity begins to point us towards, however, is the exercise of something potentially stronger than moral force, but still on the hither side of violence: something which is clearly continuous from, though it redirects and intensifies, the kinds of pressure which he imagines a new moderate flank exerting, and which we might for the sake of a label call institutional force.

Here (as genuinely apposite and also best economy) I will allow myself the liberty of quoting myself on the role of the climate-responsible – an inevitably minority cohort of intelligent, imaginative, reflective, honest and courageous people – as a revolutionary vanguard:

“When we asked where vanguard members were likely to be found, the answer was: in many walks of life, but perhaps especially in the professions, in administration, in communications and in the management of the more ‘conceptual’ industries. While not having the kind of power which goes with being a governing oligarchy or an economic class, in other words, they will most of them have their hands on or near the levers of both efficacy and legitimacy for the fossil-fuel state…without their cooperation and their tacit endorsement, that state could not go on functioning for any very long time. The point is then to recognize and use that potential leverage in a properly organized way, so as to bring targeted pressure to bear wherever and whenever the structure of the fossil- fuel state starts to show cracks. This will require the formation of ‘vanguard cells’ across the broadest possible range of professional and occupational groupings, and the coordinated and increasingly frequent withdrawal of cooperation and endorsement by members of these cells over a significant period of time.” (Realism and the Climate Crisis, p.168)

Where physical force is about compelling your antagonist by the fear of getting hurt, that is, institutional force compels an antagonist, who for this purpose has to be an institution or a network of interdependent institutions like a state, by the fear of being structurally disabled – with all the associated losses of sunk capital, invested prestige and the ability to control events. The picture is then of the employment of this order of force, combined with the building-up of a shadow institutional network through strongly developed organs of community resilience, plus continued pressure through existing representative systems (national and local), deliberately in order to threaten the fossil-fuel state with serious destabilisation, such that sooner or later it has to cede key areas of authority to some emergent, though as of now very largely unpredictable, coalition of the climate-responsible. This trajectory, I submit, would offer genuinely revolutionary prospects while remaining ‘moderate’ at least to the extent of eschewing armed insurrection. What is more, it looks like something for which Read’s moderate flank, conceived firstly as an exploratory endeavour and then as a half-way house, could provide an essential preparatory stage and field training.

Part of that training, clearly, would have to involve fining down the broader constituency of climate responsibility into a self-recognised and seriously coordinated vanguard elite. Read doesn’t anywhere here discuss that possible development directly, but he makes various remarks from which it is evident what his attitude towards it would be – for example:

“I urge us to have faith that living in truth is not for an elite, but for many of us – if we are to have a chance of getting through what is approaching…There is something recklessly arrogant about the assumption that the masses cannot take the truth that scientists are contemplating and struggling with. Rather, what is needed is to deliver it plain, but to deliver it with love, with humanity, in supportive contexts” (p.13)

Moreover, what he does explicitly insist on throughout the book are his beliefs that any quasi-revolutionary movement of transformation needs to be a mass movement in order to be legitimate, and also that if one doesn’t set much store by the possibility of developing such a mass movement through the exercise of moral force in current conditions, one lacks a proper faith in humanity.

But neither of those beliefs is necessarily true, for what are essentially different aspects of the same reason.  That has to do with identification of the relevant elite, not just in intellectual terms (which might indeed merit the charge of arrogance), still less in any social terms, but in terms of human wholeness. A theme which scarcely surfaces in this book, but on which Read has written very persuasively elsewhere (notably in the Green House collection Facing Up to Climate Reality: Honesty, Disaster and Hope), is the viciously alienating and dehumanising power of the liberal-capitalist, deeply Hobbesian civilisation which is now collapsing, and correspondingly how its transformation into something which might avoid catastrophe could constitute – in fact, would have to constitute – a recovery of our own true nature. As he says in that volume,

“We are living, nowadays, in ways that involve us in a virtually permanent absence of community…is it possible that the rising tide of disasters that climate chaos will bring could be the (re)-making of us?…it is perhaps as likely that humanity will rise to the challenge, and be transformed for the better in the process, as it is that we will shun the victims. We will likely find ourselves manifesting a truer humanity than we currently think ourselves to have, in this climate-stressed world that we are now entering” (op.cit.  pp.58-9)

The vanguard elite, as his experiment in distributed moral force might be training it up, would actually be the advance guard and standard-bearer of that recovered wholeness. They would come from the minority who, with the far from widespread combination of virtues already catalogued, had never been seduced into commodity-addiction. They would thereby be stewards of the recognition that a way of human living which massively erodes both the life-communities of the biosphere and all the ligaments of mutuality and sinews of genuine life-meaning sustaining human community, is simply humanly intolerable, and must be opposed and subverted at any cost. They would be those who, knowing the hard truth of our situation and determined to live in it, accept the accompanying grim responsibility of taking power by whatever means they can, without waiting for any sort of majority endorsement and even overriding strong majority reluctance, in order to prevent what horrors can still be prevented. But in thus acting out of and on behalf of human wholeness they stand in, at this desperate juncture and with a thoroughly non-quantified kind of representativeness, for the whole of humanity. That is their warrant and legitimation for wielding whatever institutional force they can command, and indeed whatever force beyond that turns out to be called for. By the same token, acknowledging and deferring to that warrant is itself the faith in humanity that may yet carry us through.

And as for the commodity-addicted at large? – who knows what such an example, with the charismatic leadership which it would necessarily require and empower, taken together with rapidly-diminishing supplies of substitute satisfactions and overlaid by a succession of intensifying disasters and infrastructural unravellings with which conventional authority will be visibly quite helpless to cope, might mean by way of opportunities for recovery from addiction? In the individual case, such a process can be facilitated by the therapeutic provision of what is known as ‘recovery capital’, including resources for access to purposeful activity and a strengthening sense of self-esteem, for which in the collective analogue confident vanguard leadership could enrol at least some of the majority population. Certainly, in this unprecedented situation and for the foreseeable future, politics must shift decisively from the democratic to the therapeutic – and letting themselves be caught up in healing transformation should be recognised as for now the best hope of regained wholeness for the commodity-addicted, if we are indeed prepared to be as unsentimentally clear-sighted about their present condition as Read calls us to be about the crisis itself.

Really wanting to know the truth, in other words, may bring with it responsibilities and new configurations beyond what even this searingly honest book envisages. At the very least, such further prospects need to be included in discussion of where the original and exciting ‘moderate flank’ conception might eventually be leading us. We are promised another book, specifically on that concept, for later this year (Read’s creative productivity is humbling, but always energising). May we trust that it will take up these utterly vital issues?


[1] See Paradise Lost, Book I, ll.648-9

[2] See his 1942 essay ‘Pacifism and the War’ in S. Orwell and I. Angus (eds) The Collected Essays,
Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Vol 2, (Harmondsworth: Penguin) p 262.

[3] In One- Dimensional Man, (London: Routledge, 1964/ 2002 ), p 11.

[4] See but note that this organisation has recently been renamed the Climate Majority Project.